Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died: Book Overview

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "I'm Glad My Mom Died" by Jennette McCurdy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the life of a child star? In what ways did Jennette McCurdy’s mother abuse her? How is she learning to heal?

A child star’s life isn’t always glamorous, and in some instances, it’s downright toxic. In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette McCurdy describes the turbulent connection between her acting career and her relationship with her mother, Debra.

Read below for a brief overview of Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died.

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

Former child star Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died explores the ways in which her acting career and her entire identity are inextricably linked with her difficult, often traumatic, relationship with her mom, Debra. Debra’s control over McCurdy’s life is so complete that it extends even beyond Debra’s death from cancer when McCurdy is 21; it isn’t until years later that McCurdy starts to recover from her childhood in earnest.

McCurdy is best known for her roles in the popular Nickelodeon TV show iCarly (2007-2012) and its spinoff, Sam & Cat (2013-2014). She left TV acting in 2018, after which she wrote and directed a number of short films. I’m Glad My Mom Died originated in a one-woman show of the same name that she wrote and performed in Los Angeles from 2020 to 2021. 

Our overview divides McCurdy’s life into three chronological phases. Within each phase, we discuss McCurdy’s story by topic.

In Part 1, we’ll look at McCurdy’s toxic relationship with her mom, which dominates every aspect of her childhood and young adulthood. We’ll explore how her mom’s behavior negatively affects five areas of McCurdy’s life: her home life, her relationship with her dad, her acting career, her disordered eating and drinking, and her efforts to be independent from her mom.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss Debra’s death and its effects on McCurdy’s personal life and acting career.

In Part 3, we’ll examine McCurdy’s recovery from childhood trauma, including her therapy and treatment for eating disorders as well as her experience of coming to terms with her mom’s abuse.

Part 1: McCurdy’s Difficult Relationship With Her Mom

McCurdy’s relationship with her mom dominates every aspect of her childhood and young adulthood. In this section, we’ll examine how Debra’s behavior colors McCurdy’s home life, her relationship with her dad, her acting career, her disordered eating and drinking, and her efforts to be independent from Debra.

McCurdy’s Troubled Home Life

From early childhood, McCurdy lives with her family in Garden Grove, California, about an hour and a half from Hollywood. She notes that residents call the city “garbage grove” because so many “white trash” people live there. She lives with her mom and dad, her three brothers, and her mom’s parents. The family doesn’t have much money and frequently pays their rent late or underpays it, even with McCurdy’s dad and grandparents all chipping in. Her grandparents work minimum-wage jobs; her dad works two blue-collar jobs. Debra home-schools her four kids.

McCurdy’s home life is marred by Debra’s mental and physical illnesses, including Debra’s hoarding, her volatile mental and emotional state, and her cancer. These issues cause McCurdy to feel constantly anxious, guilty, and responsible for her mom’s health and happiness. However, she loves her mom deeply and, as a child, she’s unaware of how much her uncomfortable feelings are a reaction to Debra’s behavior.

McCurdy’s Relationship With Her Dad 

Debra’s behavior also complicates McCurdy’s relationship with her dad, Mark.

Debra belittles her husband to his face and to McCurdy when he’s not around. Mark is mostly distant and not affectionate with McCurdy throughout her childhood; the one time he does try to take her for a bike ride to get smoothies, Debra yells at him for not getting McCurdy home on time for an acting class. McCurdy wishes she were close to her dad like she is with her mom, but unlike her relationship with her mom, she doesn’t know what she needs to do to make him happy.

Years later, after McCurdy’s mom dies, Mark reveals to McCurdy that he’s not her biological father or the biological father of two of her brothers. McCurdy realizes that her mom lied to her children about their dad throughout her life, depriving them of a relationship with their biological father. 

Debra’s Control of McCurdy’s Acting Career

Whereas Debra’s behavior influences McCurdy’s home life and her relationship with her dad, when it comes to acting, Debra controls McCurdy’s career completely—including the decision to act in the first place.

Debra had always wanted to be an actress, but her parents wouldn’t let her. When McCurdy is six, Debra tells her that she should be an actress because Debra wants to give McCurdy the life she never had. McCurdy knows being an actress is what she has to do to make her mom happy.

Debra takes McCurdy to audition for an agency and McCurdy is accepted as a background actor. She starts to get more work because she’s good at cooperating and doing what she’s told, which she says are important traits for a child actor. She auditions to work as a principal actor with a better-known agent, and she doesn’t get it, but Debra talks the agent into taking McCurdy on as long as she takes acting classes.

McCurdy hates the acting classes. She doesn’t enjoy acting at all, but she’s glad it makes her mom happy. To add to the discomfort, Debra insists on sitting in on her acting class, so McCurdy has the additional pressure of knowing her mom is watching, judging, and coaching her (by using facial expressions and mouthing the lines).

McCurdy becomes known for crying on cue. To do so, she has to imagine horrible things happening to her family. It makes her miserable, but she usually books roles if she cries on cue in the audition. After she’s done this for a while, she has one audition where a part of her rebels against having to feel so much pain again, and she isn’t able to cry. After the audition, she tells her mom that she doesn’t want to act anymore. Her mom throws a fit, crying and banging on the steering wheel. When McCurdy retracts her statement, her mom stops crying immediately. McCurdy notices that she’s not the only one who can cry on cue.

As McCurdy gets older, she starts to notice that some of her mom’s expressions and actions seem fake—as if they’ve been rehearsed. And some of McCurdy’s own words and behavior around her mom are also a form of acting: performances designed to please her mom. For example, when McCurdy writes a screenplay and presents it to her mom, thinking she’ll be proud, her mom looks into the distance with a rehearsed “wistful” expression on her face and tells McCurdy she hopes she doesn’t like writing more than acting. McCurdy responds that of course she doesn’t—because she knows that’s what her mom wants to hear. Debra says she wants McCurdy to keep her actress’s “peach butt” and not get a fat writer’s butt; she also says that the plot of McCurdy’s screenplay has already been done in another movie.

After many years of guest-starring on episodes of TV shows, McCurdy books a role as a series regular on the Nickelodeon show iCarly. McCurdy’s regular paychecks bring her family financial stability. The show becomes successful, and McCurdy becomes increasingly famous. The attention adds to her anxiety: Strangers approach her everywhere she goes and she’s resentful and apprehensive about constantly having to interact with them. 

When McCurdy is about 17, she begins to resent her mom for the first time. Her mom controls every aspect of McCurdy’s acting career, down to how she signs her name for autographs. It had always been her mom’s dream for McCurdy to act, and McCurdy had always wanted her mom to be happy. But now that McCurdy is successful, she starts to realize that her mom is happy and she’s not. She feels like her mom used her. Sometimes she even hates her mom, but she immediately feels guilty and tells herself how much she loves her mom and is grateful to her. Near the end of the book, McCurdy describes her mom as a narcissist.

McCurdy’s Eating Disorders and Drinking

Just as she controls McCurdy’s acting career, Debra also controls McCurdy’s eating, and she steers her into anorexia. 

As a child, McCurdy is afraid to grow older because her mom wants her to stay young and small, in part because Debra thinks McCurdy can book more roles if she looks young for her age. When McCurdy is 11 and starts puberty, she asks her mom what she can do to stop developing, and her mom introduces her to what she calls “calorie restriction,” a form of extremely strict dieting. 

McCurdy and her mom bond over their careful calorie counting and weekly weighing sessions (during which Debra also measures McCurdy’s thighs with a measuring tape). In six months, McCurdy drops three clothing sizes. Her doctor and others become concerned that she has anorexia. Debra lies to the doctor and says she hasn’t noticed any changes in McCurdy’s eating habits.

McCurdy starts a music career as a teenager because her manager says that’s what all the child actors are doing. Right before she goes on a tour of American malls to promote her music, her mom’s cancer comes back, so Debra is unable to go with her. It’s the first time in McCurdy’s life that she experiences what it’s like to be away from her mom for more than a few hours. She notices that a lot of her anxiety disappears. Although she’s still nervous about her performances, she’s enjoying herself. She feels free and she starts eating a lot more. She realizes how exhausting it is to constantly monitor her mom and be exactly the way her mom wants her to be.

After the experience of being able to eat whatever she wants without worrying about what her mom will think, McCurdy starts binge eating frequently. She feels like her body is making up for having starved itself for so long.

McCurdy tries alcohol for the first time when she’s 21. She loves it because when she’s drunk, her inner critic—which is mostly the voice of her mom criticizing and judging her—is silenced. She proceeds to get very drunk every night for three weeks after she first tries alcohol.

On the day her mom dies, McCurdy binges on food and alcohol then forces herself to throw up. This is the beginning of McCurdy’s long battle with bulimia.

Lack of Emotional and Physical Boundaries Between Debra and McCurdy

McCurdy and her mom are so close that there are few emotional or physical boundaries between them. When teenaged McCurdy finally starts to assert some independence from her mom, Debra punishes her for it.

Debra doesn’t have many friends and, until McCurdy meets her co-star Miranda Cosgrove on iCarly, McCurdy doesn’t, either. When McCurdy is a young girl, Debra tells her repeatedly that she is her best friend and that she’d rather have McCurdy than any man. It makes McCurdy feel special to be so close to her mom.

Throughout McCurdy’s childhood—until she is 17—Debra showers with her. Sometimes Debra showers with both McCurdy and her brother Scottie, who is 16. This makes McCurdy and her brother extremely uncomfortable. Debra says she has to shower with her because she was trained as a hairstylist and only she knows how to properly shampoo and condition McCurdy’s hair.

During the showers, Debra performs breast and vaginal “exams” on McCurdy. She says this is to check for cancer. McCurdy dissociates from her body when this is happening and thinks hard about Disneyland to remove herself mentally from her present reality. When the “exams” are over, McCurdy feels immense relief.

After Debra’s cancer comes back, she’s in a wheelchair and unable to drive McCurdy to the set of her show. McCurdy is 18 but Debra didn’t want her to learn to drive because she said her time would be better used doing other things, such as practicing lines. So she arranges for McCurdy to get her own apartment closer to the set. McCurdy is excited to finally be living on her own, but on her first night there, Debra invites herself over to spend the night—and never leaves. She sleeps in McCurdy’s bed with her; it’s hard for McCurdy to sleep because Debra clings to her all night.

One day, McCurdy lies to Debra that she’s having a sleepover with Miranda Cosgrove, whom she had grown close to, so she could spend the night with a man. Debra detects the lie and screams at McCurdy that she’s a dirty whore, throwing a remote control at her. McCurdy goes on to have a relationship with the man, but she keeps it secret from her mom.

When McCurdy and her boyfriend go on vacation to Hawaii together, McCurdy tells her mom that she’s with a gay friend (the only men Debra wants McCurdy to spend time with are Mormons and gay men). However, the paparazzi take photos of McCurdy and her boyfriend together. Upon seeing the shots in the news, Debra goes ballistic. She calls McCurdy about 100 times, leaving her voicemails, and sending her emails in which she tells McCurdy she’s a slut, evil, and a monster, and she also goes into detail about the sex she imagines McCurdy and her boyfriend are having. Debra goes so far as to post a note to McCurdy’s fan page about how awful she is. She accuses McCurdy of causing her cancer to come back and says that she and McCurdy’s brothers all disown McCurdy.

Part 2: Debra’s Death

Debra dies when McCurdy is 21, leaving McCurdy feeling lost and unsure of who she is. In this section, we’ll discuss McCurdy’s initial reaction to Debra’s death, as well as the effect of Debra’s death on McCurdy’s acting career.

Debra’s Death Sends McCurdy Into a Tailspin

Jenette’s mom’s death causes her to stop caring about many things and feel angrier about others. She continues drinking and binging and purging. She exercises excessively: running 5-10 miles every other day and 13 miles twice a week. She feels bitter about things like her co-star, Ariana Grande’s, regular absences from the set in pursuit of her singing career. She loses her virginity to a man when she’s drunk just to get it over with, even though she doesn’t really want to have sex with him. 

She also realizes that she’s spent her life focusing on her mom—trying to understand her and doing whatever it takes to make her happy—and has never focused on understanding or getting to know herself. She feels lost.

McCurdy Reconsiders Her Acting Career After Debra’s Death

After her mom dies, McCurdy is increasingly going through the motions at work. She hates the show she’s on (Sam & Cat, a spin-off of iCarly) and she hates acting. She agreed to the spin-off because her mom wanted her to do it and because the producers agreed that she could direct an episode. But the date on which she’s supposed to direct keeps getting pushed back until, with very few episodes left to go, it’s pushed off the calendar completely. She feels demoralized. 

Later, she finds out that the show is being canceled. A manager tells her it’s because of a sexual harassment claim against one of the producers. McCurdy had her own experiences with this producer. For example, when she was younger, he pressured her to try alcohol for the first time. He also massaged her shoulders and placed his hand on her knee without her consent, and insisted that she wear a bikini for a scene in iCarly even though she felt uncomfortable doing so. Nickelodeon offers McCurdy $300,000 not to talk publicly about her experience with the network. She refuses to take what she considers to be hush money.

After she’s done a couple of seasons of a new show, she decides to take a break from acting. Acting makes her feel much the same way her eating disorder does: like she has no control over her life and is constantly bargaining to be good enough. She wants to take charge of her life, rather than allowing her eating disorder or her acting career to control her. 

Part 3: McCurdy’s Recovery

After her mom’s death, McCurdy’s difficult childhood and its lasting, negative effects start to catch up to her, and she begins the process of recovery. In this section, we’ll first explore McCurdy’s experience with therapy and treatment for her eating disorders. Then, we’ll discuss how McCurdy comes to terms with Debra’s abuse. 

Therapy and Treatment for Eating Disorders

Following her tailspin, McCurdy begins going to a therapist and life coach, Laura. They start by taking stock of McCurdy’s life, determining that she’s binging and purging 5-10 times a day and drinking 8-9 shots of hard alcohol a night. Laura helps McCurdy understand that she’s binging and purging as a way to relieve anxiety caused by pent-up emotions. McCurdy is so spent and exhausted after she purges that she has no energy left for anxiety. In this way, the act serves as self-medication. She learns that one method of addressing her bulimia is by journaling constantly to get her feelings on paper so they aren’t unconsciously propelling her actions.

In response to Laura’s questions, McCurdy reveals that her mom showed her how to restrict calories when she was 11. Laura says that McCurdy’s mom taught her how to be anorexic and encouraged her anorexia; she says this was abuse. McCurdy has always told herself that her mom wanted what was best for her, and she can’t stomach hearing her mom be called abusive. She quits therapy and returns to her disordered eating with a vengeance.

Soon after McCurdy leaves therapy, her dad tells her that he’s not her biological father. Then, her boyfriend, who’s suddenly become religious despite previously showing no interest in religion, declares that he’s Jesus Christ reincarnated. McCurdy feels as if nothing in her life is certain or under her control. On a flight to Australia for a press junket, she binges and purges the entire time, and the last time, she loses a tooth in the process—her stomach acids had worn down the enamel. When she lands, she finds out her boyfriend is in a mental health facility and may be schizophrenic.

Things have gotten so bad that she decides to see an eating disorder specialist, Jeff. He starts by having her eliminate any “dieting” behavior: She must get rid of all diet foods in her house and stop exercising, except for walking and stretching. Then she needs to track her eating and purging. Next, he has her attempt to eat three meals a day, with snacks in between. She starts making gradual progress.

One lesson she learns that hits home for her is the difference between a “slip” and a “slide.” A slip is when you slip up on your road to recovery and return to the behavior you’re trying to quit. You may feel guilt or frustration, which is normal and can even motivate you to change. A slide is when you add shame to those feelings of guilt and frustration, beating yourself up or telling yourself you’re a terrible person because you made a mistake. The problem with shame is it tends to spiral, often leading you to slip up more and more. Accepting that you’ll make mistakes on the road to recovery, without going into a “shame spiral” every time you do, can in fact make recovery more likely.

McCurdy struggles for years to recover from her eating disorder and has frequent relapses. However, using the techniques she’s learned, McCurdy eventually reaches a point where she’s able to go a year without purging, and she begins to enjoy eating.  

Coming to Terms With Debra’s Abuse

McCurdy visits Debra’s grave regularly after she dies, but as the years pass, she visits less and less frequently. On one of her visits, McCurdy notes all of the superlative adjectives the family had placed on her gravestone and reflects on how she always believed her mom was all of these and more—a kind of goddess who could do no wrong. But now she recognizes the truth: Her mom was a narcissist who emotionally, mentally, and physically abused her.

McCurdy catalogs some of the ways that Debra hurt her:

  • Debra gave McCurdy breast and vaginal exams until McCurdy was 17. McCurdy felt violated, but her mom had taught her that she didn’t have the option of saying “no” to anything her mom thought was best.
  • When McCurdy was only 6, Debra forced her into a career that McCurdy didn’t want. She never had a chance to be a child.
  • When McCurdy was 11, Debra taught her an eating disorder.
  • Debra lied to her about who her father was, and never told her about her biological father.

Despite the abuse, McCurdy still misses her mom and reflects fondly on some aspects of her personality. Sometimes she imagines that if her mom were still alive, she would have apologized for her actions, and the two could have a healthy relationship.

But then McCurdy realizes that this is just a fantasy. She knows that her mom never acknowledged her issues or made any effort to change during her lifetime, even though her behavior was harming her family. McCurdy knows that if Debra were still alive, she’d still be trying to manipulate McCurdy into doing and being exactly what Debra wanted, she’d still be encouraging McCurdy’s eating disorder, and she’d still be pushing McCurdy to continue in an acting career that makes McCurdy miserable. McCurdy gets up from Debra’s grave and walks away, knowing that she’ll never come back.

Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died: Book Overview

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Jennette McCurdy's "I'm Glad My Mom Died" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full I'm Glad My Mom Died summary:

  • Former child star Jennette McCurdy's autobiography
  • McCurdy's difficult, often traumatic, relationship with her controlling mother
  • What it's like to grow up as a child in the spotlight

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *